Israel Defense Forces chief Aviv Kohavi on Friday said the military will ramp up activities in the northern West Bank, following several deadly terror incidents involving Palestinians from the Jenin region and as officials reportedly believe the Palestinian Authority is losing control of the area.
Speaking to soldiers at the Ofer military base, Kohavi said he believes security challenges will remain for many days to come and hinted at an operation in Jenin.
“If we are going to clash with the terrorists anyway, I prefer it be in Jenin,” Kohavi said, according to Channel 13. The city is located in the northern West Bank close to the border with Israel.
Channel 13 said Israeli forces may be preparing for an operation in the northern West Bank as soon as this weekend.
Earlier on Friday, Kohavi instructed the IDF to expand and increase offensive operations in the West Bank, especially in northern towns from which recent terrorists came.
Last week, Israeli troops attempted to arrest a team of terrorists on its way to an attack. Three Islamic Jihad members were killed in the ensuing firefight near Jenin and four Israeli soldiers were injured.
According to the Kan public broadcaster, the Palestinian Authority is being challenged for control of the area around Jenin by both the Islamic Jihad terror group and members of Fatah, the Palestinian faction ostensibly led by PA President Mahmoud Abbas.
Israeli officials want the PA to crack down on terror in the area, but fear it will not be able to, according to Friday news reports.
Kohavi also ordered the military to ramp up defensive operations in the “seam zone” border area along the Green Line separating Israel and the West Bank.
Kohavi told soldiers on Friday night that the terrorist who carried out Thursday’s terror shooting in Tel Aviv, Ra’ad Hazem, crossed into Israel through a gap in the barrier.
Officials suspect Hazem was driven from Jenin to the northern Israeli town of Umm al-Fahm through a gap in the fence, and from there took a bus to Tel Aviv to carry out the attack, according to Hebrew media reports.
The suspect who drove Hazem is known to security forces, Ynet said.
There are many gaps in the West Bank barrier, and the IDF has dispatched thousands of troops in recent weeks to the seam zone area to prevent Palestinians from crossing into Israel.
Kohavi told the troops that the attacker should not have been able to cross into Israel and that it is the IDF’s responsibility to prevent such border infiltrations.
On Friday, troops thwarted an attempt to smuggle an M16 assault rifle and ammunition from the West Bank into Israel near the northern city of Tulkarm.
Channel 12 said security forces were looking into the possibility that other people knew about Hazem’s plan to carry out a terror attack and did not act to stop him. At the moment though, the belief of the security establishment was that Hazem acted alone using a pistol he acquired in the West Bank.
The manhunt, which lasted for nearly nine hours, included at least 1,000 police and IDF reinforcements combing the area for the attacker. IDF special forces — including units from the IDF’s elite Sayeret Matkal and Shaldag units — were deployed to the city to help with the efforts.
Police officials said Friday they were angered by the IDF’s decision to send hundreds of troops onto the streets of Tel Aviv to join the search. Security within Israeli cities is generally the police’s purview.
“We did not expect such a large number of soldiers in this incident, nor did we ask for all these forces,” a police source told the Kan public broadcaster. “We could have done without the large forces that the military provided.”
Police said the army did not properly coordinate the response to the shooting, which saw security forces searching streets, apartment buildings and alleyways, and sometimes mobbing buildings where the terrorist was suspected of hiding.
Police were also angered by soldiers letting news reporters tag along with them while they carried out the search.
Thursday’s shooting killed three and broke a tense calm that had set in since March 28, when a Palestinian terrorist opened fire in the Tel Aviv suburb of Bnei Brak, killing five people.
Other attacks in recent weeks in Hadera and Beersheba, by Arab Israelis thought to have been inspired by the Islamic State, left six others dead.
Police and security officials reportedly said Friday there are still several serious warnings about terror attacks being planned.
According to Channel 12, the warnings are not specific, but indicated a general threat of more attacks.
The escalation has come amid the Muslim holy month of Ramadan — often a period of high tension in Israel and the West Bank. Israel has ramped up security measures in response to the attacks and deployed additional forces to the West Bank, Gaza border and major cities such as Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.